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My post on redeeming films and directors who make you feel supported



I'm a professional bookseller, and as I peruse the literary criticism aisle I'm noticing that more and more there are books exploring how books and film can be used as therapeutic tools, can make you a better person, either because the writer of the book/director of the film is evolved company and capable of great empathic reaches into all of her characters (for example, "Jane on the Brain"), or because they tend sympathetically and well to ailments the reader might be suffering from -- depression, or whatnot (for example, "The Novel Cure"). It strikes me that in this age of #metoo, we have impetus to make this way of exploring film a priority.

I remember very specifically thinking of how certain directors who don't get much respect from critics, but whom I feel I benefited from simply by being "in contact" with, might find themselves re-evaluated in this new environment. Rob Reiner, Paul Greengrass, Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Ron Howard, Ridley Scott (didn't we all love how he reacted so instantly and decisively to "Spacey," out of the right reasons), JJ Abrams (James Cameron?), are never directors to get the critical esteem of Soderbergh, Malick, Allen, Eastwood and company, but if I had to isolate which of these two groups to introduce new students to so they become experimental and innovative, I suspect I'd actually take the former, for from them they'd feel a greater level of support and love than, I think, from the latter, which is what I think you need, primarily, to follow your play wherever it leads, to take risks, and innocently discover in explorations you found novel that you've become "new" to the world too (if want stylistic innovators, the question we might want to ask ourselves is, what kind of parenting produces them?, not, what kind of artistic forbearer?, a question Richard Brody brings to the fore in his review of "Whiplash": https://www.newyorker.com/…/whiplash-getting-jazz-right-mov…, and which Stephanie Zacharek discusses in her review of "Phantom Thread": http://time.com/5075162/phantom-thread-movie-review/).

Richard has recently done a take-down of the myth of the old-fashioned vulgar but passionate studio boss. I think further take-down is required so that we become loosened from the perhaps misbelief that in order to be innovative in film, you have to study "Criterion" quality, study "cinéma," so that redemption goes to directors -- respected critically or not -- who have a reputation for giving support to the actors and from whom you can feel that if they're challenging you, even "hard," they're fundamentally WITH you. Literature respects both Joyce AND Jane Austen, Faulkner AND Louise May Alcott. What we seem to get is respect for Malick and also for... Whit Stillman, maybe? which doesn't feel the same. We should aim to be the same. (And because I think this our fix, that we still sour on what we take as "oversensitive," "snowflake" culture -- a sour, abuse-enabling inclination that persists even through #metoo -- I disagree with Brody that, unlike as before with Hawks and Hitchcock, simply because there are so many venues to encounter films these days we won't find that a subsequent generation ups a number of directors we take only as makers of popular entertainment more into the realm of bolder respect: no, we're going to find the same happens to us, owing to reasons evolving within our grasp.)

Why do I like "Breakfast Club" so much? -- because the director wished all of the characters well, and because he created what proved a protected space, a safe zone, where the characters could challenge one another and (very believably) grow. This is where I start, and from there I become interested in camera, mise-en-scene, lighting, style... but only FROM and AFTER there, however afterwards in depth. I need to feel there is goodness in the film, goodness in genesis and intent, that is, which certainly doesn't mean offering happy pills, which only means you're broken into subservience and ultimately are after revenge. Thoughts about this, or about how other movies can enable what universities are bravely doing and offering nurturing, protected spaces for people to feel respected and comfortable conveying their own ideas? Don't movies like "Spotlight," with ample strong displays of how to encounter people with respect, and what generously comes to you once you do that, remain intact in terms of our respect, even if exposed brilliantly for their numerous shortfalls? And even if "Star Wars" was "classic-cinema of New Wave but with childish sympathies," wasn't experiencing some of these "sympathies" validating, emboldening... more than a pat on the back -- what we might have needed to take courage, actually venture a leap, and breach into -- gasp! -- adulthood, a consideration I also think valid of equally gooey, syrupy, simplistic, catering, ostensibly-childish-mentality-maintaining "Titanic"? (Another way of saying this is, if we want more Malicks, we need people who've, first, boned up on their "Spielbergs"/"Ron Howards" -- the good, nurturing parent, that is -- and then presented them with Malick's corpus, for they won't have as much problem fearing his disrespect if they venture past him, or care if doing so, risks making them invisible to an audience that just wants more repeats of what they're accustomed to.) Would we really be better off if we didn't have either and only had, say, '80s "Sex, Lies and Videotape"? Or just more too cool for school... the last of the bunch to forego the cigarette and coffee for the vegan smoothie, thinking this shows not our being fixed on regressive social forms but our being one of the few remaining in adult proclivity?

Before I leave, I very much respect that goodness is a complicated issue -- progressives/innovators aren't always more polite or appear less monstrous; they can behave in ways which make them seem appropriate to call out as actually cruel and lacking in basic human decency. But the sensitive appreciate where the heart ultimately is, and those remaining unbroken, will be drawn to it, even if hard or impossible to justify why.

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